Tubercular Capital: Illness and the Conditions of Modern Jewish Writing

Tubercular Capital: Illness and the Conditions of Modern Jewish Writing

by Sunny S. Yudkoff

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At the turn of the twentieth century, tuberculosis was a leading cause of death across America, Europe, and the Russian Empire. The incurable disease gave rise to a culture of convalescence, creating new opportunities for travel and literary reflection. Tubercular Capital tells the story of Yiddish and Hebrew writers whose lives and work were transformed by a tubercular diagnosis. Moving from eastern Europe to the Italian Peninsula, and from Mandate Palestine to the Rocky Mountains, Sunny S. Yudkoff follows writers including Sholem Aleichem, Raḥel Bluvshtein, David Vogel, and others as they sought "the cure" and drew on their experiences of illness to hone their literary craft.

Combining archival research with literary analysis, Yudkoff uncovers how tuberculosis came to function as an agent of modern Jewish literature. The illness would provide the means for these suffering writers to grow their reputations and find financial backing. It served a central role in the public fashioning of their literary personas and ushered Jewish writers into a variety of intersecting English, German, and Russian literary traditions. Tracing the paths of these writers, Tubercular Capital reconsiders the foundational relationship between disease, biography, and literature.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781503607330
Publisher: Stanford University Press
Publication date: 12/25/2018
Series: Stanford Studies in Jewish History and Culture
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 256
File size: 7 MB

About the Author

Sunny S. Yudkoff is Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Table of Contents

Contents and AbstractsIntroduction: Jewish Literature and Tubercular Capital chapter abstract

The Introduction sets the stage for a larger investigation into the intersection of tuberculosis, biography, and literary output. To do so, the Introduction offers an account of the state of Yiddish and Hebrew literature at the turn of the twentieth century as well as an overview of various cultural-historical connotations of tuberculosis among Jewish and non-Jewish readers. This includes an examination of Romantic notions about consumption, anti-Semitic discourses surrounding tuberculosis, and the reputation of the disease among Zionists, communists, and Jewish public health officials across the globe. The Introduction further introduces the methodological intervention of the study—tubercular capital—by bringing together sociologist Pierre Bourdieu's concept of "cultural capital" with anthropologist Didier Fassin's investigations into the "politics of life."

1In the Hands of Every Reader: Sholem Aleichem's Tubercular Jubilee chapter abstract

This chapter examines the role played by disease in the life and career of the classic Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem (né Sholem Rabinovitsh). After being diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1908, a global campaign known as "The Jubilee" was initiated to help the destitute author recuperate in Nervi, Italy. Drawing on archival sources, newspaper articles, and multiple memoirs, this chapter plots how the campaign promoted the author's reputation, stabilized his finances, and inaugurated the first formal stage of literary-critical assessments of his work. It further analyzes the importance of tuberculosis in Sholem Aleichem's literary output, in the development of his literary persona, and in the establishment of a mutually-effective relationship with his readership.

2In a Sickroom of Her Own: Raḥel Bluvshtein's Tubercular Poetry chapter abstract

This chapter examines the role of tuberculosis in the life and writing of the Hebrew poet known as Raḥel. To do so, the chapter draws on the comparative model of the Victorian sickroom to examine how Raḥel transformed the space of her recuperation into a veritable salon of literary exchange and creativity. Reading Raḥel's correspondence and poetry and drawing on the memoiristic accounts published by her visitors, this chapter reveals that Raḥel's Tel Aviv sickroom became the center of her public self-fashioning as an ailing female poet. The sickroom further serves as the key for interpreting the link between Raḥel's poetics of space, simplicity (pashtut), and the spread (hitpashtut) of disease. This chapter also sharpens scholarly understanding of Raḥel's literary biography by situating her work within an Eastern European Romantic tradition of writing about consumption that stands in tension with contemporaneous Zionist ideas concerning illness.

3In the Kingdom of Fever: The Writers of the Jewish Consumptives' Relief Society chapter abstract

This chapter investigates the literary scene of the Jewish Consumptives' Relief Society (JCRS), a Coloradan sanatorium for indigent Jews. There, a cohort of Yiddish tubercular writers engaged in a reciprocal relationship with the institution, becoming the public faces of the sanatorium and, in turn, being offered new venues to see their work published and translated. These writers include the lyric poet and Bible translator Yehoash, the epic poet H. Leivick, and the prose stylist Shea Tenenbaum. Drawing on archival records, newspaper reports, and memoirs, the chapter further explores how the JCRS supported the establishment of a tubercular American Yiddish literary tradition.

4In the Sanatorium: David Vogel Between Hebrew and German chapter abstract

This chapter examines the role played by tuberculosis in the life and writing of the Hebrew modernist David Vogel. After taking the cure in Merano, Italy in the winters of 1925 and 1926, he published his first novella, Be-vet ha-marpe (In the Sanatorium) in 1927. The text draws heavily on the tropes and concerns of German-language sanatorium fiction, including works by Arthur Schnitzler, Klabund, and Thomas Mann. Specifically, this chapter argues that Vogel writes his account of the sanatorium in a tense intertextual exchange with Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain (1924). Vogel challenges the possibility of a Hebrew-German literary conversation through a series of interlingual puns, wordplays, and jokes about tuberculosis. Illness emerges in this chapter as the hermeneutic key to Vogel's modernism.

Epilogue: After the Cure chapter abstract

This chapter explores post-Holocaust iterations of tuberculosis and sanatoria in the work of the Israeli novelist Aharon Appelfeld. Although he did not suffer from tuberculosis, Appelfeld frequently turns to the disease and its institutions, such as in his 1975 novella, Badenheim, 'ir nofesh (English: Badenheim 1939). Bringing his work into dialogue with the texts of the tubercular writers of the pre-WWII period, this chapter demonstrates the continued relevance of tubercular capital as a methodological prism and analytic category, even after a diagnosis of tuberculosis was no longer commonplace among modern Jewish writers.

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